Inter-Racial Marriages In Malaysia Risk Harming “National Harmony”

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — Marriages between Malaysians of different races risk harming “national harmony”, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said, noting that many such unions have resulted in bitter disputes over the religious statues of the couple’s offspring.

The Attorney-General noted that apart from these legal battles, such marriages have also led to claims of “racial discrimination”

The top lawyer added, however, that law reforms meant to solve such problems have yet to be approved.

He said interracial marriages also created the “new conflict” between civil law and Shariah law on the issues of unilateral conversion of children and child custody disputes where only one spouse converts to Islam.

“The increasing number of cases has also raised allegations of racial discrimination by the courts and authorities. The anguish to the families cannot be overstated and that is a fact.

“In this regard, the failure of the converting spouses to resolve the family arrangements prior to conversion and in fact, attempting to use the different jurisdictions of the civil and Syariah courts to their advantage, jeopardizes not only family harmony but potentially national harmony,” the top government lawyer said according to his written speech from the ILKAP National Law Conference 2014 last week.

Abdul Gani said the problem of enforcing conflicting orders from the civil courts and Shariah courts in such disputes then calls into question the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and police’s integrity, adding that this would hamper their ability to effectively carry out their duties.

Abdul Gani did not name any examples of such court cases, but there are two high-profile cases that have hit national headlines — the cases of non-Muslim mothers Indira Gandhi and Deepa Subramaniam, where both women’s Muslim convert ex-husbands ran off with their children.

In both cases, the Muslim convert ex-husbands cited the Shariah court orders granting child custody to them when refusing to comply with the civil court’s child custody orders in favour of their former spouse.

Despite recovery orders from the Ipoh High Court and Seremban High Court directing the police to act to find and return the abducted children to the non-Muslim mothers, the police have declined to take action and are now seeking the courts’ clarification instead.

Abdul Gani said proposed amendments to three laws were mooted in 2009 to ensure that matters such as child custody and child maintenance would be decided by the court where the marriage was registered.

“These amendments, however, remain pending,” he said, without elaborating further.

He listed down the three laws of Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 and the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993.

Lawyers have argued that child custody matters for a marriage that was initially between two non-Muslims should be decided by the civil courts even if a spouse later converts to Islam.

This is because a marriage that started out as a civil union should end or have any related issues ruled upon in the civil courts, instead of the Shariah courts for marriages between two Muslims, the lawyers said.



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